Community Journalism the role of the media

In today’s world, journalism really does matter

The bag that I carry gets a variety of reactions from an assortment of people.

A stark black bag with a simple white font featuring the phrase, ‘Journalism Matters, #Nottheenemy’ is met by some with scoffs, others with disdain and even a few positive, ‘Hey, I like your bag!’

Those I suspect come from closet journalists or perhaps subscribers to a newspaper.

“Journalism Matters!” takes on different meanings for all kinds of journalists.

June 28 will mark one year since five individuals who worked at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland were killed.

Gerald Fischman, 61, the newsroom’s editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, 59, an editor and features columnist; John McNamara, 56, a sports reporter and editor for the local weekly papers; Wendi Winters, 65, a local news reporter and community columnist; and Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant, all lost their lives.

The shooter took revenge about a story that had been published in the newspaper, a piece similar to ones that our papers have previously published. I would hazard a guess that the majority of publications throughout the newspaper industry have also published similar articles.

Their journalism mattered.

Last week, as yet another shooting unfolded in downtown Dallas, and Dallas Morning News photojournalist Tom Fox was caught in the middle.

When many of us, even trained professional journalists, would have simply hidden from the shooter, Fox captured images that would grace front pages across the nation.

His forethought, bravery and dedication to his craft were on display as the portrait of a shooter in an active shooting situation was captured.

His journalism matters.

For a local newsroom in neighboring Hunt County, staffers at the Greenville Herald Banner stood in shock after severe weather ravaged their community Wednesday, June 19.

Pushing aside worries about their own homes and safety, they reported to work capturing history and providing essential information to their citizens. They embraced the fact that journalism matters.

With no electricity, in oppressive Texas summer temperatures, they picked up the pieces and went to work. They put out a paper and continued to update mobile applications.

In a time of crisis, their journalism mattered. A lot.

With the fourth anniversary of the July 7, 2016 Dallas Police shooting on the horizon, many of us can recall images captured from both professional journalists and those citizen journalists who added to their reporting efforts.

Their memories helped honor the five heroes who tried their best to save lives and countless other officers who stopped the shooter.

Their journalism matters.

And so does ours.

Last year, 53 journalists across the world were killed for their efforts to bring the truth to light. Some died covering wars. Others were murdered over their work.

Without boots on the ground, facts and essential stories would remain hidden.

Truth, such as that brought to light by Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, would remain in the dark.

Khashoggi was killed in a Saudi Arabian consulate after criticizing the Saudi state.

Democracy dies in darkness.

Though not dodging bullets or avoiding car bombs, a passion for local journalism is a feat in itself. Long hours, limited resources and interacting on a daily basis with those who you report on is not for the faint of heart.

In this world, my passion for journalism has only grown. And so has my dedication for covering it.

If you aren’t a subscriber of The Times, or any of our other publications, I encourage you to do so. It’s one of the best investments $33 can get you.

After all, journalism matters.

Reaching younger readers

If we’re going to reach Millennials and Gen-Z, we have to go where they are

Editor’s note:  Far too much of our conversation about reaching new readers is middle-age (and older) white men writing for other middle-age (and older) white men.  So we thought we needed to hear from a young reporter who’s part of the generation we so desperately want to reach.  Meet Brooke Crum (one of Tommy’s former students), who works as a reporter in Waco.

I recently wrote an article about a 15-year-old Waco High School student who was featured in a New York Times piece on Generation Z.

She was among some 900 Gen-Z’ers who responded to a query from the Times on its Instagram story, which simply asked members of her generation to describe how they are different from their friends. This student said she reads the news daily and takes an interest in politics.

While it was refreshing to hear of her interest in news, I was far more excited about how she connected with the New York Times – Instagram, the social media platform almost everyone under age 40 uses. According to Pew Research Center, 67 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use Instagram and 62 percent use Snapchat, yet every news organization I have ever worked for in the past seven years has only focused on Facebook and Twitter. Yeah, they might have an Instagram account, but check out the date of the latest post. And is there a current story?

Our Instagram accounts lie stagnant, patiently waiting for the next Millennial in the newsroom to take the reins and manage the social media app that will organically allow us to tap the audience we need to survive as an industry.

I have never worked for a news organization that has truly engaged an audience, well, my age. Sure, my friends will read local news stories that pertain to them or if I bother them enough to read my latest story, but mostly they interact with national news organizations that use social media to its fullest potential. It’s just easier for them that way.

The only time we ever interact with those 18-and-unders is when we cover education and sports. They don’t reach out to us. They don’t read us.

Personally, my favorite news accounts to follow on Instagram are the New Orleans Times-Picayune and National Geographic. My love for all things New Orleans plus the Times-Picayune’s incredible photographers provide an endless stream of stunningly interesting photos, and I can witness scenes from around the world via Nat Geo photogs, who also write lengthy captions about what they photograph. I particularly enjoy Beverly Joubert, who mostly photographs big cats in Africa and writes about the importance of conservationism.

And Instagram is only one method of targeting Millennials and Generation Z – the largest and most diverse generation. We should still prioritize Facebook and Twitter. Millennials and the Gen Zs are on there, too, just much more infrequently.

But the thing is, they don’t know what a reporter does. They don’t know who Woodward and Bernstein are. They’ve never heard of the Pentagon Papers. They don’t even watch journalism movies.

I have the privilege of working with one of the reporters who cowered in a ditch for some two hours in 1993, while bullets whizzed past his head and struck the photographer’s car shielding him from the exchange of gunfire between the ATF and the Branch Davidians. He remembers using this strange newfangled device called a cellphone to tell his editor he and his colleagues were caught in the crossfire. He remembers telling another reporter whimpering with anxiety beside him to shut up. And he remembers how that photographer, who still works at the Tribune-Herald, drove that bullet-ridden car until it was totaled.

Tommy “Spoon” Witherspoon recently showed me around our museum at work, which has an entire room dedicated to the Branch Davidian coverage. He walked me through that day, how he got the tip when the search warrant would be served – on a Sunday – and how the Tribune-Herald staff followed the story from there. He did not tell me his source.

I tell friends and family about Spoon and about our work museum, which also has a room dedicated to Robert Griffin III, the famous Baylor quarterback who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens. They are fascinated. Most of them have similarly foggy memories to mine of those weeks in 1993, but we’ve never met anyone who lived through it. We’ve never heard their stories.

My parents grew up in Waco, but we were living in Dallas at the time of the standoff. They remember the news coverage, as do my aunt and uncles who still live in Waco. They don’t know Spoon, and I find that baffling. How can they not know anything about the man who has written some of the history of Waco?

On the other end of the spectrum is one of my former colleagues. She recently left the Tribune-Herald for a job outside of journalism, but you might not know it around town. People still come up to her with news tips and story ideas. They still send her Twitter messages. She deleted the Facebook account that thousands of Wacoans went to for news every day, but that has not stopped fans from tracking her down. They do not necessarily know who she is, but they knew what she did simply because she shared her job on social media. She opened up a window into the newsroom and the Tribune-Herald.

And that’s what the rest of us need to do. We need to open up the windows, claw off the cobwebs and invite the public inside. At the Waco Trib, we could invite them inside our museum and show them just how important and brilliant the journalists working for them are and how they have been honored for their work.  We can’t just assume the reading public knows what we do and how we do it — we need to show them.


Engagement Social media

Engaging in disengagement: Publisher drops his social media accounts

I joined Facebook about three years ago.

I deleted my Facebook account earlier this week.

I decided I didn’t need it.

Even crazier, I deleted the News-Record’s Facebook page as well.

While these moves may seem counterintuitive for a community journalism professional, I thought I’d air my reasoning out here.

Until September 2016, I had resisted Facebook.

I assumed it was a waste of time and was nothing I was interested in.

I was forced into joining by a graduate school professor who decided he would host all of his online lectures that semester on Facebook Live.

The university offered a perfectly fine video conferencing tool— it was better, actually— but, this professor saw something media savvy in the newly offered Facebook Live application.

While I assumed this was the act of a young Mass Communication professor trying to build his tenure application by trying new things, the mandate required each class member to join Facebook in order to be a member of these sessions.

So I did.

I remember telling my wife then, “You hear about all these people complaining about time wasting on Facebook; I’ll probably become one of those people.”

I was right. I did.

While I think social media is a great tool, I’ve seen its terrible side too.

We witnessed obscene comments— via social media— earlier this year when a football coach wasn’t rehired.

They played out for days as comments on the News-Record’s original report of a school board meeting.

I eventually removed the original post. I figured we wouldn’t print such trash in the actual newspaper— why let it play out there?

Then I was criticized, by some, for trying to “control the narrative.”

I’ve seen seemingly grounded intelligent people share blatantly false news reports on Facebook as if they were the gospel and then not care about them being false when it was pointed out.

This is part of the problem with Facebook.

Facebook told the Washington Post last week, “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”

From day one, Facebook has maintained that it is a platform and not a publisher.

But they want the protections of a publisher— first amendment rights and all— without the responsibilities of a publisher.

As a publisher, I am subject to libel laws and standards of ethical practice.

The paramount of which is that what he publish must be true.

Yes, satire is protected; but satire is another story.

Facebook just admitted they don’t care if what they dispense is the truth.

Thereby, they are part of the problem.

They have also admitted their business model revolves about harvesting our personal data.

To Facebook, we are not an audience. We are the product they sell.

All of this legal and ethical stuff aside, me leaving Facebook was a personal decision.

I was just wasting too much time on it. I’d sit down to check my feed and look up and it would be an hour later.

And I wouldn’t be any better for the time I had spent.

I am not the type who can look at it for a minute and put it down for a day.

I am too nosey.

So, it’s time for me to re-center the energy of being nosey to more productive means— enterprising community newspaper reporting.

I was able to do that before Facebook came along.

I was also able to meet my wife, have four wonderful kids, graduate college, build a successful career, grow a great circle of friends and maintain a passion for performing live music— all without Facebook.

While you may miss pictures of what I’m having for dinner, I am still available for cup of coffee and conversation whenever you can stop by the office.

Businesses nowadays are concerned with “engagement.”

The trend is trying to find new ways to achieve “engagement” via social media.

To me, “engagement” is what we used to do before we got so busy monitoring our social media feeds.

It is a place we need to get back to.

Rural journalism the future of community journalism

In today’s media world, newspapers must fight local complacency by proving they are relevant — and needed

Does the reportedly mixed reaction to the death of a small weekly newspaper on the Lake of the Woods show we have entered “the golden age of ignorance,” as Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins declared?

Perhaps, if newspapers can’t convince communities that they are an essential civic asset.

Collins’ declaration came in a follow-up to MPR reporter John Engler’s report on the May 7 demise of the Warroad Pioneer, one of three weeklies in Roseau County, on Minnesota’s northern border. Engler paraphrased New York Times reporter Richard Fausset: “He said he spent a week in Warroad, talking to locals about the paper closing. He admitted that most folks, outside of the Pioneer staff and their husbands, didn’t seem too broken up about it.”

Fausset disputed that, in an interview with me: “I talked to a lot of people who were very worried the newspaper was going to quit. What MPR reported does not accurately reflect what I found in the town. There are a number of people concerned about what happens next.”

Engler did a little of his own reporting on the point. After paraphrasing Fausset, he wrote: “Out on the streets of Warroad, a handful of locals backed up his assessment,” and cited one who “gets his news from Google, ‘just like everybody else.'”

That comment reflects “monumental ignorance,” said Reed Anfinson, former president of the National Newspaper Association and publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson in central Minnesota. “There is no local civic reporting from Google. Google captures our work and pirates it – if it is available.”

Anfinson also said, “A reporter finding some disgruntled, or disinterested, people and using them to imply definitive assessment of the community’s feelings about the newspaper, I find troubling.”

Publisher Rebecca Colden told me, “There were people coming in throughout the day who said just the opposite.” Interviewed before Fausset was, she said, “I think Richard’s saying they’re just complacent with the value of a newspaper. They like it, but they don’t value it as they should.”

That feeling, Colden said, helped her decide to close. She said she met with many people in the community, looking for ways to rejuvenate the paper, but “The challenge was that there is a complacency within these small communities, that they just feel like the paper will always be there, especially a paper of this age.” The Pioneer lasted more than 120 years.

And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t warned the whole town, in stark fashion. Colden said the Pioneer was the first of many Minnesota papers to run a blank front page in 2017, asking readers to imagine that there was no local paper. She told me that she did the sort of accountability news coverage that readers expect, and “They’re gonna miss all the information they didn’t know they needed.”

Colden said she could have borrowed more money and taken the risk of converting to free, total-market circulation, “but I need to know that there’s really community buy-in to do that, and . . . the community buy-in was really lacking.” She said that showed in school news, a local-paper staple: “Teachers and coaches just throw some things up on social media rather than send it to the paper.”

Engler reported that Fausset was assigned to “tell the story of the prototypical American small town losing its voice.” If so, he seems to have made a good choice; the paper is like many rural weeklies that have closed in the last 15 years: in a small town outside a county seat, with a shrinking advertising base and independent ownership that couldn’t or wouldn’t negotiate a sale or merger.

We don’t know the whole story. Colden said she couldn’t work out a deal with the paper’s former owners, Page1Publications, who have five nearby weeklies, including one in Roseau County. That was after she’d considered going to free distribution, and then tried to compete more directly with the county-seat paper, the Roseau Times-Region, 22 miles away. As often happens, local loyalties trumped other factors, she said: “Because of that community loyalty over there, we were never able to capture that advertising base.”

She said her local ad base has shriveled because Marvin Windows and Doors, the main local employer, has “a new generation of workers” more willing than their predecessors to shop in other towns. “It doesn’t bug them to drive two hours to go to Walmart,” she said, so more than a dozen of Warroad’s approximately 50 storefronts are empty. “We’re really a community in transition.”

But on the other side of Roseau County, in a similar small town, the Greenbush Tribune is thriving, owner and newspaper broker Julie Bergman of Page1Publications told me. Yes, having five papers in a cluster gives them economy of scale, but the Greenbush editor is a local man, Ryan Bergeron, who came back home to take the job. Bergman said he makes sure that the Tribune has content that is relevant to its readers.

“In order to survive, you have to have something in the paper that people want to pick up,” Bergman said. “They’re going to learn something.

Whatever the causes of the Pioneer’s death, it “is more than a one-off loss of a newspaper,” Anfinson told me. “I am hearing from newspaper publishers and executive directors of state newspaper associations that their concerns about the future of small-town weekly newspapers is growing.”

Almost a year ago, Anfinson was featured in a Rural Blog item headlined, “Times get tougher for rural newspapers.” Now it seems even tougher. As the old saying has it, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Newspapers must prove to their communities that they are relevant, and needed. As Bergman said, “There needs to be more education.”